The two-time defending champion Mounties and the Crusaders will play in Division III semifinals tonight, with the winners advancing to Saturday's Super Bowl at Westfield State University's Alumni Field.
The Crusaders will play top-seeded Belchertown tonight at 5:15 at Holyoke High School's Roberts Stadium. The No. 2 Mounties will travel to Mahar -- yet again -- to play Greenfield. That game also starts at 5:15.
Greylock vs. Greenfield
It is a 67-mile trip from Williamstown to Orange, and the route is one coach Shawn Flaherty is familiar with. The Mounties have gone there two years in a row and left with wins over Mahar. This time, the Mounties will play the Green Wave.
Not only will Greylock be the home team, but they will also feel like it. Flaherty said that if it weren't for having to play the Senators at home, his team enjoyed playing on the turf there. Greylock running back/defensive back Ethan Ryan said he agrees.
"Playing on [the turf there] last year, you have the feel of what it's like," he said. "We have really good speed. The turf only makes you faster."
The Green Wave enter tonight's game coming off a hard-fought 29-22 loss to Turners Falls on Thanksgiving morning.
Greenfield's one-man army is quarterback Zach Bartak,
Bartak was 14 for 23 for 257 yards and he rushed for 88 more in Greenfield's 36-28 win over Monument on Oct. 6. It took a touchdown run by Bartak with 2:11 left in the game to break a tie and hand the Spartans a loss.
The senior is only the third Franklin County football player to run and pass for more than 1,000 yards each. The last player to do it was Athol quarterback Eric LaFountain, who was kept under wraps by Greylock in the 2010 Super Bowl.
In the loss to Turners Falls, Bartak had 250 total yards and scored three touchdowns. He was also sacked four times and intercepted three times.
The Greylock players didn't do much tape watching of the Green Wave and Ryan said he didn't go to watch them on Thanksgiving. He said he's confident his coaches will have them ready.
"Coach Flaherty spent most of Thanksgiving watching tape," said Ryan. "He prepares a team better than any coach you've ever seen."
The Mounties beat Athol two years ago and Lee last year. This is Ryan's second Super Bowl with the Mounties, and the senior said that it does feel a little different. It's a little more light-hearted than in the past. He said the bus ride back from the Williams College turf field Monday night was so loud, he couldn't hear himself think.
"This team is unlike any of those teams. We were an all-business team. We did our thing and went home," Ryan said. "This year, it's a great group of guys. I couldn't ask for anything more."
St. Joseph's vs. Belchertown
Unlike their county rivals to the north, the Crusaders haven't been to a Super Bowl game since losing to Auburn of Central Mass. in 2005, and hadn't won a title since beating East Longmeadow in 1995.
"We're excited. It's our first [football] playoff game as a team," said Crusader quarterback/defensive back Jon Bianchi. "We've been waiting for this since we were freshmen."
To get to its first Super Bowl in 16 years, the Crusaders will first have to handle Belchertown, the Intercounty League champion.
This is the third consecutive trip to the semifinals for coach John Mayo's Orioles. Last year, Belchertown lost to Lee and fell to Athol in 2010.
The Orioles are led by quarterback Nick Leduc, who has thrown for 952 yards and rushed for 151. He has 17 touchdown passes and five interceptions. His top target is running back James Ryan, who has caught 25 passes for 506 yards and run the ball 65 times for 510 more yards.
Both teams are coming into this game off losses. St. Joe's fell to Hoosac Valley in the Plus-One Weekend, a game that the Crusaders led at halftime. Belchertown fell behind 14-0 at halftime and never caught up as it was trounced by Pathfinder 30-8 on Thanksgiving morning.
"We got done what we wanted to get done," said Bianchi. "It wasn't hard for us to bounce back."
The St. Joe's captain went with his father, head coach Gary Bianchi, to scout the Orioles on Thanksgiving.
"Film can blind you sometime," Jon Bianchi said. "On film, their slot guy looked ridiculously fast. In person, not as much."
The Crusaders are anxious to get back on the turf. Lavante Wiggins ran for 156 yards and Tank Roberson 100 on turf in a blowout win over Cathedral.
"It's a lot different for us. Our team relies on speed and quickness," said Bianchi. "On a fast track, it makes things a little easier for us."